Following on from ‘Autumn Breezes In’ last time, part of me felt I should call this post ‘October Blasts In’ given the run of stormy weather that has heralded the start of the new month. There’s nothing unusual here about several days of autumnal storms bringing high winds, torrential rain (sometimes hail) and lively thunderstorms; what is odd is that they have arrived a month earlier than normal, catching us a little by surprise. This is generally an early November thing, a cold and soggy spell sandwiched between weeks of warm, mellow, sunkissed weather.
It would be easy to feel fed up with this sudden dip but we know from past experience it’s a temporary thing, nothing more than a meteorological hiccup. It’s a change, not an ending, and I must admit I quite enjoy the atmospheric shift it brings in its wake. There is something cleansing and scouring about those heavy downpours, washing away summer’s dusty debris and shaking the tree canopies open in a way that makes everything look fresh and scrubbed, if a little tossed and jumbled, too. Where gentle summer petals fell and lizards basked in quiet corners, suddenly, there are flurries of fallen leaves.
The fig trees have been well stirred, their leaves flipped inside out and hanging at jaunty angles where before there was ordered calm. Happily, there is still much sweetness to be found amid the chaos.
The poor courgettes have taken a bashing, their huge leaves shredded to lace. They are still producing the occasional fruit but are nearing the end of their season now.
The sunflowers have definitely reached the end of the line, victims of their own success in a way; they had grown so tall and are so heavy that they really didn’t stand a chance in the face of strong winds and wet earth. I usually save some seed to plant next year and leave the rest for the birds to eat at their leisure ~ this year, I am going to have to cut the heads and hang them on the fence to make access easier.
Close cousins to the sunflowers, the Jerusalem artichokes have been making a gorgeous splash of yellow on the terrace for many weeks; now, petals gone, they have collapsed in spectacular fashion, narrowly avoiding a young cardoon. It’s not a problem: hidden deep in the soil will be piles of starchy tubers that make wonderful comfort eating all through winter.
I love all this seasonal jiggling and shifting in the garden, the way old troopers bow out as the new crew appears. There are still some brave old souls clinging on, though: the squash patch is looking rather flattened and forlorn after the boisterous growth of summer, but there’s still a flamboyant little finale to come.
Oca is a new experiment for us this year and it’s been an interesting plant to watch. The attractive trefoiled foliage grew quickly from tiny pink tubers in the spring, but then really struggled as the temperature climbed; flattened and panting through the summer afternoons, it cried out for daily watering and there were many times I doubted it would survive. It’s a plant that needs falling light levels to form tubers and it certainly seems much happier now ~ in fact, it’s positively blooming where other plants are giving up for the year.
Another new plant for us is the New Zealand spinach which just seems to go from strength to strength, sprawling merrily over a wide area on succulent stems and producing masses of fresh green growth. I love it, it’s such a cheery, unassuming yet versatile vegetable, with none of the high maintenance issues that can come with true spinach. I’m hoping it will carry on right through the winter.
There’s nothing new about ‘Greyhound’ cabbages, we’ve been growing them for years but we are playing around a bit with their season this time. They are officially a summer cabbage, usually ready in early June, but we decided to see how they would fare as an autumn vegetable; given the mild climate here, we thought it was surely worth a punt. Mmm, looks like we might have backed a winner!
Leeks, too, are an old favourite and the idea of not having a reliable patch to crop through winter is too terrible to contemplate. They’re looking grand and the stormy weather has barely ruffled their glaucous leaves . . . but they are more than ready to eat now, which I suppose makes them officially an autumn vegetable. The same is true of those other great staples ~ parsnips ~ along with the first of the autumn carrots and Florence fennel; it’s as though a big seasonal dietary adjustment has blown in with the storms. Well, we’re not complaining.
Something else which may be a bit earlier than usual this year are the kiwis; they normally start in early November but are looking to be slightly ahead of the game. There is less of a crop than we’ve enjoyed in previous years, but it’s all relative. Let’s just say, we won’t be going short.
There will be no shortage of squash, either, as phase two of the harvest has boosted the number to 44 with yet more still to come. I don’t think we’ve ever grown such huge butternuts, most of them weigh several kilos each.
Washed and dried, they are all lounging on their sun balcony ~ despite the distinct lack of sun ~ seasoning away nicely before being moved into the horreo for storage. Squash is very much back on the menu, diced and roasted with onions, garlic and chestnuts being a current favourite, both hot and cold.
It might be difficult to muster the enthusiasm during a torrential downpour, but I think it’s vitally important to celebrate the gift of water. Certainly, it’s not something Asturias lacks ~ in fact, it’s very much a defining part of the landscape here and the rich, all-pervading verdancy stands testament to the generous rainfall we receive. The water cycle has always fascinated me, in so many ways it’s something all too easily taken for granted and yet I think it is the most incredible, mind-blowing thing. We have an unlimited supply of chemical-free spring water here which we can use to water the garden in times of need, but old habits die hard and the idea of not capturing the abundance of rainwater sliding down the roof is unthinkable. I smiled to see the butt full to overflowing, a single hibiscus leaf floating on the surface of the cool, clear water like a lonely boat. Such a precious resource, indeed.
Another precious resource ~ well, to my mind, anyway ~ is compost. I understand that plenty of people may struggle to share my delight at the sight of a pile of decomposing vegetation, but for me this stuff is worth its weight in gold. Our compost heap swells to great proportions over the summer and as it had started to meet me as I came round the corner to the squash patch, I thought it was probably time to turn it once again.
The first job was to lift off the top layers and place them to one side. This is easier said than done, especially as we seemed to have a lot of branching things that had tied themselves in knots. Also, there was a bit of a self-set nasturtium thing going on . . .
It was welll worth the effort, though, as beneath all that mess was a wonderful layer of dark compost: it was hard to get the camera angle right, but the compost layer was about 30cm deep (or a foot in old money if you prefer). Down the whole length of the heap, that adds up to a lot of compost!
To say it was full of worms would be an understatement. This is the sort of sight that gladdens my gardening heart; it’s also no exaggeration to say I was literally mobbed by robins who lost no time in spying an easy meal.
I lifted the compost and built a heap between the pile of rotting farmyard manure and the comfrey potion bucket. Once it was all there, I covered it to keep the rain (and robins!) off until we spread it around the patch and in the tunnel, the perfect autumn feed for our soil.
Spending most of our lives outdoors as we do, it comes as a bit of a shock to the system to find ourselves confined indoors because of terrible weather (thankfully, it rarely lasts more than a day or two). With an unusual drop in temperature, we decided to light our stove ~ aka The Beast ~ for the first time in months. I love this ritual of the first fire, there is something so reassurring and life-affirming about the sweet scent of woodsmoke curling from the chimney and the flicker of flames behind glass. Like a line of washing blowing in the breeze or a pot of herbs by the kitchen door, for me there’s a strong sense of ‘home’ about it and certainly the wrap-around warmth it creates in the house is pure seasonal hygge. The kettle sits there ready for coffee, the bread dough revels in the warmth and we often pull a bag of peaches from the freezer and set the jam kettle to bubble. Lovely.
This is a great time to catch up on a few indoor tasks. It’s walnut harvest time at the moment and the wind has helped to hurry things along a bit, although beating the wild boar and polecats to the fallen treasure is as much a race as ever; luckily, there’s more than enough to go round. Walnuts are a huge crop for us here and we eat them every day; no food miles, no packaging, highly nutritious and delicious and all for free, they are a perfect food. We have just reached the final basket of last year’s harvest so sitting by the fire and cracking a pile of them ready to use was a satisfying pastime.
I haven’t done any knitting for ages but there’s something about the onset of autumn that has me reaching for my needles and starting a new sock project, and this week has been no exception. I’ve opted for ‘Drops Delight’ yarn in gorgeous jewel colours that work up in wide colourwashed bands; I’m a simple soul, but things like this make me very happy!
I’ve also been finishing a birthday card, the second one I’ve made recently as we have two little grandsons celebrating their third birthday within a short time. Making cards for The Littlies has become a bit of a tradition and I love spending the time reflecting on the joy they bring to our lives and how wonderful it is to watch them grow and develop their own fascinating personalities. I wanted to create something seasonal, so opted for the idea of autumn hedgehogs looking for somwhere in the leaf litter to hibernate. I set up an art ‘studio’ outside (pre-storm, obviously) and used children’s watercolour paints to make colourwashes ~ this is the absolute extent of my talent with paint! 🙂 I then spent a very happy hour traipsing about the woods, collecting leaves of all shapes and sizes to use as templates. For the hedgehogs, I returned to my yarny comfort zone and used scraps of spun fleece: natural brown Manx Loaghtan for the body and French marigold -dyed Merino for the face and feet. Well, as ever, the result was a bit quirky but if nothing else, there’s a lot of love in it!
The same can be said for something I am making for a very special family, a summery blanket to grace a new garden bench. I have loved every minute of this project so far, from choosing the colours together ~ nine shades of blue and three yellows ~ to the postman delivering the parcel of wool and with it, that wonderful anticipation of starting on a new journey of simple creativity.
I’m not following any pattern, just working the rows in blocks of twelve so that each colour is distributed evenly across the blanket, pulling out whichever colour I feel like using next as I go along. It’s a blissfully relaxed approach.
I’d forgotten what a lovely thing this ripple stitch is, there is something so gently therapeutic about working up and down those waves; it’s the perfect pick-up, put-down activity on wet days and it’s exciting to see it growing steadily into a blanket.
Those colours certainly help to brighten the grey gloom, they feel like the essence of an Asturian beach day in summer. They also serve as a reminder that of one thing we can be sure: the winds will drop, the rain will stop, the temperature will rise again and we will soon be basking in the benign warmth of a soft, sweet autumn once again. We won’t be packing the shorts and sandals away just yet. There’s nothing like a bit of blue sky thinking in my book! 🙂